Monday, October 14, 2013

The Silver Beach Amusement Park


The Silver Beach Amusement Park
by Erin Farwell

A few weeks ago I had a short story published in a Halloween-themed mystery anthology. Someone asked me how I came up with my idea and I explained how I decided on a corn maze as a location and the story emerged from there. Until this conversation, I hadn’t realized that this is how I work.

One of my favorite settings to date is the Silver Beach Amusement Park in St. Joseph, Michigan from Shadowlands. Logan Drake purchased lake front property from local Indians in 1891. Starting small, Drake and his partner Louis Wallace, had cabins, canoes and small boats to rent to tourists who came from Chicago, northern Indiana and Wisconsin. A large wood slide was built and people enjoyed sliding into the chilly Lake Michigan waters.

Within a few years a hand-carved carousel and German calliope was added along with a small roller coaster, photography booth and trinket shops. By 1900 the airplane ride, ice cream parlor and beer garden with a music hall were added. Games of chance were a large part of the park and included the high-striker, duck pond, spill the milk (baseball throwing game) and a shooting gallery.

In 1927, the year Shadowlands takes place, the Shadowland Ballroom opened in a new, round building located at the point where the St. Joe River flows into Lake Michigan. The ballroom had an unusual design for such a small-town setting. There were no visible support beams or pillars, just a perfect circle with a domed ceiling. The acoustics were perfect and many famous big bands of the 1930s and 40s played there just to hear how they sounded. The old beer garden and dance hall were converted to an amusement park. By this time a larger roller coaster had been built and an indoor pool gave bathers the option of swimming in heated lake water.

Silver Beach changed with the times. During the Depression, dance marathons were held at the ballroom and the indoor pool was converted to a roller skating rink. The shooting gallery became part of a larger arcade. The House of mysteries and the funhouse offered mirror mazes, wooden slides, an obstacle course of moving walkways and the sugar bowl, a large round disk on which twenty or more people sat. When it spun, people would slide off the sides. Boxing matches were staged at the park, including many major prize fighting events. Music shifted from big band to Tommy James and the Shondells and the Hollies to Pat Benatar and Styx. A surprising array of famous actors, comedians, prize fighters and dignitaries visited Silver Beach during its years of operations.

The park closed in 1971, although the memories linger. Recent efforts have brought a carousel and a ballroom/meeting space aptly named Shadowland, back to the water front. The beach itself is one of the best in the area and boasts a great view of the lighthouse that sits on the pier that marks the north side of the river. The Amtrak train station now hosts the Silver Beach Pizza restaurant which makes the best pizza in the area. Try it yourself and I’m sure you’ll agree.

The water is blue, the sand is clean and warm, and on a moon-lit night, Silver Beach shows how it earned its name. How could I not use this wonderful bit of history as a setting for a book?

 

Erin Farwell Bio

 

Although I have a business and a law degree, I spend my days writing, teaching art classes (metal clay) and taking care of my family, which includes my husband, daughter, three cats, two guinea pigs and two fish. I grew up in the small town of Berrien Springs, Michigan lived in Chicago for many years before moving to Roswell, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. I love to travel had have been fortunate enough to visit many states as well as go to Paris, France, Salzburg, Austria, Munich, Germany and Venice, Italy. I've also been to parts of Belgium and Slavania. Together my husband and I climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro in Kenya and traveled to China to adopt our daughter. My first mystery novel, Shadowlands, was published in 2012.